Why Does Wild Salmon Cook Faster?

August 5, 2021
| Created by Hannah Langley, MS, RDN, CD

It’s wild salmon week at Harmons! This is the time we celebrate the harvest of these famous, delicious fish. As an avid lover of seafood, I wanted to team up with Harmons Chef Callyn to help you break down the keys to successful fish cookery. 

If right now you’re thinking, “I don’t like salmon” – chances are you haven’t cooked it correctly. Preparing fish proves to be tricky for many. The main issue is that fish is an extremely fast-cooking protein. Actual cooking times vary, but a thin filet may take just a few minutes while a thicker piece could take around 7 minutes. No one likes overcooked fish, and I suspect that is one of the reasons so many Utahns say they don’t like fish.  

Have no fear! We’re here to help. 

First, know that wild salmon cooks faster than farmed salmon because it is leaner

If you overcook farmed salmon, the higher fat content protects the protein and keeps the texture and flavor acceptable. Not that we recommend overcooking farmed salmon, just know it is more forgiving. However, if you overcook wild salmon, you will end with dry fish lacking texture and flavor. 

When reviewing a recipe, unless it specifically calls for wild salmon, assume the recipe was written for farmed salmon as it is the most widely available type. If you substitute wild salmon in a regular salmon recipe, be sure to reduce the cooking time. For example, if the recipe calls to check doneness at 10 minutes, you should start checking at 5 minutes. 

How do you know when wild salmon is done cooking?

  1. Use a thermometer. This is the easiest way. The internal temperature should reach 145°F. This usually means pulling the fish off the heat source once it hits 130-135°F as carry-over heat will continue to cook the fish. If you leave it on the heat source to 145°, your fish may overcook.
  2. Inspect the color. The flesh should be opaque, not translucent and shiny like when it was raw. The middle, or thickest part of the fish should be ever so slightly translucent.  
  3. Do the flake test. Gently press the cooked fish with a clean thumb. The fish should gently flake along the white fat lines running through the flesh. Be sure to stop cooking just at this point. Overcooked fish will also flake, so be sure to remove from the heat just as it begins to flake to prevent overcooking. 

What’s the difference between the species?

For wild salmon week, we have three species on sale: king, sockeye, and coho. The different species vary in flavor, texture, and nutrition making them suited to different cooking techniques. 


About: The largest salmon species. They have relatively few spawning runs meaning there is less overall supply. Low supply but high demand results in King salmon being the most expensive type to buy. 

Flavor and Cooking Notes: King salmon are exceptionally high in fat giving them a rich, buttery flavor and soft texture. King salmon does best when you let the flavor shine through. Keep your seasonings simple and let the fish speak for itself. Due to its high fat level, King salmon is the top choice for hot smoking. 

Nutrition*: King salmon are highest in omega-3 fats. Nutrition for 3.5 oz cooked is: Calories: 210; Total fat: 13g (3g sat fat); Sodium: 60mg; Protein: 23g; Omega-3: 1,700mg 


About: The species with the deepest, darkest red color. Sockeye populations are generally stable making them one of the most sustainable salmon choices. 

Flavor and Cooking Notes: Sockeye has a firm texture and the most intense salmon flavor compared to the other types. The texture makes it the perfect choice for grilling and its flavor means it can stand up to bold marinades and seasonings. Sockeye is good for hot or cold smoking. 

Nutrition*: Sockeye is highest in astaxanthin, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Nutrition for 3.5 oz cooked is: Calories: 220; Total fat: 11g (2g sat fat); Sodium: 65mg; Protein: 27g; Omega-3: 1,200mg 


About: You can probably guess why Coho are also called silvers: their distinct silver color. Coho are the most acrobatic among wild salmon and for this reason they are one of the most popular sport fish. Fishermen love the challenge and reward that comes with catching Coho. 

Flavor and Cooking Notes: Coho fall between the flavor and texture of King and Sockeye. They are not as soft as King or as firm as Sockeye, but right in the middle. The flavor is more delicate than Sockeye but stronger than King making it a versatile choice for a wide range of recipes and cooking applications. Coho are very lean making them a good choice for cold smoking. 

Nutrition*: Coho are a leaner salmon, offering fewer calories than King and Sockeye while still packing a nutritional punch. Nutrition for 3.5 oz cooked is: Calories: 140; Total fat: 4.5g (1g sat fat); Sodium: 60mg; Protein: 23g, Omega-3: 1,100mg 

*Note that nutrition facts vary by season and location where fish are caught. 

Wondering what to do with your salmon?

As noted above, salmon is well suited to a wide range of cooking methods. You can bake, broil, grill, pan-fry, smoke, or poach it. Add a cedar plank or leave it out. The opportunities are endless! 

If you’re new to fish cookery, pan-searing is one of the easiest methods. There are two tips to perfectly sear your fish: 

  1. Make sure your oil is HOT. Let it heat up for a few minutes and make sure it’s shimmering. 
  2. Add it to the pan and DO NOT MOVE IT. The crust needs to develop and fully separate from the cooking surface before you flip it. The length of time varies depending on the seafood, but a general rule of thumb is to let it cook without touching for at least 3-5 minutes for skin-on fillets. 

Start with this simple recipe from Chef Callyn. Pan-seared fish is wrapped in crisp lettuce, drizzled with lemon aioli, and served with juicy cucumber and zesty corn and black bean salad.

Chef Callyn Graf leads our Harmons Holladay Market Cooking School and has a passion for seafood having worked on a boat for many years. Have fish questions? Contact her by emailing callyngraf@harmonsgrocery.com.

At Harmons we love salmon not only for its delicious flavor but also for its health value. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fat and vitamin D, making it a top recommendation from our dietitian team. This blog was written by Harmons Dietitian Ashley, shown on the left. Wondering how our dietitian team can help you? Reach them by emailing dietitian@harmonsgrocery.com.